It is very rare for your steering wheel to lock up while you are driving. Even though most modern cars have a way to lock the steering wheel automatically, this is only supposed to happen when the car is stopped and the ignition is off. This is a safety feature and a way to keep the car from being stolen. It also keeps someone from breaking the power steering system by pushing on the steering wheel when the car’s engine is off.
If you start your car with the key in the ignition and the steering wheel is still locked, you may need to “jiggle” the steering wheel a little to turn off the lock. This is totally normal, so don’t worry if it happens every now and then.
Most modern cars come with a power steering system that is helped by hydraulics. This mechanism is made possible by a hydraulic pump, which is powered directly by your engine through a belt. The hydraulic pump gives the power steering system in your car oil pressure. At its heart, it is a rotary valve that senses when the steering wheel is turned and automatically uses the hydraulic pressure to help turn the steering wheel in the right direction. So, it goes without saying that a problem with this mechanism could cause a big change in how your steering feels or even make your steering stop working at all.
In this article, we’ll talk about some of the things that could make your steering wheel lock up while you’re driving, as well as what to do if it does happen.
Reasons why your steering wheel may lock up while driving
Even though it’s very unlikely, your steering wheel could lock up while you’re driving. Here are a few reasons why your steering wheel might lock up:
Power steering failure
Even though a problem with your power steering system probably won’t cause your steering wheel to lock up completely, it could make your steering wheel feel very heavy all of a sudden. This could make it feel like your steering has locked up. Vehicles with power steering are only supposed to work when there is hydraulic pressure helping to turn the wheel. A loss of pressure could also be caused by damage to one or more of the power steering pipes, which would cause power steering fluid to leak out and pressure to drop. The good news is that your steering wheel should still work, but you may have to turn it with a lot more force than usual.
Electronic ignition system failure
There is a chance that a problem with your car’s electronic ignition system could cause the lock pin to go in while the car is still running. This pin is only supposed to move when the ignition is turned off. However, it is possible that it could move if the electrical ignition circuit lost all power or if the mechanism that moves the pin broke. In this situation, no matter how hard you tried to turn the steering wheel, it wouldn’t work again.
A mechanical failure in the steering column or rack-and-pinion assembly
If one of the many mechanical parts in the steering mechanism breaks, you might not be able to steer or the steering might get stuck. This could be caused by a broken steering column (the rod and universal joint that connects your steering wheel to the rack-and-pinion assembly), a broken gear on the rack, or a broken tie rod arm that connects the rack and pinion to the steering wheel. A sudden, sharp load on the steering assembly (like when you drive over a large rock or hit a big pothole) or a fatigue failure in one of the parts can cause a mechanical failure (where excessive cyclical positive and negative stress on a component eventually causes failure). The good news is that this is very unlikely to happen because all of the steering parts in most cars are well protected and are made to last longer than the life of the car, even with heavy use.
What should I do when my steering wheel locks up while driving?
It goes without saying that you should immediately try to stop your car and get it off the road. If you can’t do this, leave your car where it is and go somewhere safe and out of the way of traffic. You shouldn’t try to drive your car to the nearest repair shop. Instead, you should call a towing service to take your car to the nearest repair shop.
Can I fix it myself?
Getting help and advice from a professional is always a good idea, especially when it comes to your car’s steering system. Here are some things you can check for yourself, though:
Check the level of your power steering fluid.
All cars with power steering will have a small clear reservoir with a clear liquid inside that is about 75mm in diameter and is located under the hood (in the engine bay). This is the hydraulic fluid for your power steering. It should be labelled, and the side of the reservoir will show the maximum and minimum levels. First, see if there is any liquid in this reservoir. If there is, check to see if the level is between the top and bottom marks. If there’s no liquid in the reservoir, that means there’s a leak somewhere in the system. You can put power steering fluid in the reservoir, which you can get at most garages and service centres, and wait to see if the level stays the same. If this is true, the steering might start working again. If the level goes down quickly, it means that one of the hydraulic steering pipes is leaking.
Visually inspect the steering mechanism underneath your car.
You’ll have to get under your car to check if the rack-and-pinion steering assembly or one of the tie rod arms that connect each front wheel has been damaged. Pay close attention to the parts that are out in the open, as these are the ones most likely to have been damaged by moving parts. Most likely, you won’t be able to look at the steering column itself because it will be hidden in your car’s dashboard.
Inspect the wiring of your car.
Sometimes, a short circuit from the battery of your car can be caused by faulty wiring or a lot of heat near the engine. If this is the case, you should see smoke or burn marks around the wiring. If there is a short in the wiring, the ignition system may not work, which could lead to a problem with the steering lock mechanism. If you see any signs that something is wrong with your car’s electrics, you should disconnect the battery and wait until a repair shop can look at your car.
How much will it cost to fix?
Depending on what the problem is, the cost to fix it will be different. If your hydraulic power steering fluid is leaking, you can expect to pay between €25 and €75 at a repair shop to replace the broken pipe or seal and add more power steering fluid to the reservoir. If you can do this yourself, it may only cost you between €5 and €10. But if your system is completely dry, the pump or other hydraulic parts could be damaged. Replacing the pump is much more expensive. At a repair shop, you could expect to pay around €150 for this.
If your car’s rack-and-pinion assembly or tie rod arms have structural damage, you can expect to pay between €200 and €400 to fix them at a service centre.
If the steering lock mechanism broke and needed to be fixed or replaced, you could expect to pay between €200 and €300 at a service centre. This also depends a lot on the type of car you drive because some companies only sell the steering column or steering wheel as a whole unit, so you can’t just replace the lock mechanism. You could expect to pay a lot more than €300 in this case.
Question and answers
What is a manual disabling steering wheel lock?
A steering wheel lock that can be turned off by hand is a U-shaped steel bar that locks over your steering wheel and keeps it from being turned. This is a device to stop theft.
What does it mean when a car locks up?
When a car “locks up” in this situation, it means that the steering wheel won’t turn.